There is always a distinct thrill captured when songs are written on tour. Emmy award winner Kiefer Sutherland, 52, didn’t anticipate falling in love with road life as much as he has. Over the last two years since his 2016 debut, Down in a Hole, the actor approximates that he’s performed more than 300 shows, and curating his set lists night after night is what led to the songs featured on his sophomore album, Reckless & Me (out April 26).
“A lot of this record was informed by songs I wish we had and were playing live,” Sutherland tells CMT.com. “That was driving most of the decisions I was making. Some of them were written before the first record was even made … Some were written on the road when we were touring the last record.”
The result is a collection of freewheeling honky-tonk anthems that will speak to every outlaw soul. Recalling the freedom of the open road, “Reckless” rolls like passing white lines on a highway and sings of a rambling artist who gives everything he has on every stage he plays. There’s a nod to Sutherland’s roots in rodeo when he sings, “we’re ready to go for tonight’s rodeo.”
A team roping national champion, Sutherland remembers the cowboys he met on the U.S. rodeo circuit in the ‘90s as some of the toughest people he’s ever encountered. He got into the sport when raised ranch horses on a small farm he owned in Montana.
“My exposure to Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, that all came through team roping,” Sutherland says. “My exposure to that music during that time when I was going from rodeo to rodeo was incredibly important. What I loved about that music was that these guys were telling stories that had a beginning, middle and an end. It was the storytelling that’s always attracted me to acting and storytelling was what really excited me about writing.”
Other Reckless & Me standouts that embody the freedom that touring life provides include his current single “This Is How It’s Done,” opener “Open Road” and “Something You Love.” His take on Patty Loveless’ “Blame it On Your Heart” is irresistible, and “Agave” offers a Bonnie-and-Clyde storyline that’s set south of the border with salsa undertones and blues-rock guitar riffs that make it sound like two songs in one.
Reckless & Me was recorded in two sets of sessions with producer Jude Cole at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. Distinguished musicians who contributed to the album include guitarist Waddy Wachtel (Stevie Nicks), drummer Brian MacLeod (Sheryl Crow) and legendary pianist Jim Cox, who has pretty much recorded with everyone from B.B. King to Travis Tritt.
Enjoy more from CMT.com’s interview with Sutherland below:
CMT.com: I obviously see the storytelling parallels in acting and music. Who are the storytellers that really informed you as a songwriter?
Sutherland: Merle Haggard is one of my favorite songwriters for a variety of reasons. You often hear country music referred to as three chords and the truth. I think Merle really represented that beautifully. Merle would write songs you knew were personal like “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down.” It’s not a flattering song to the person who wrote it. But it was so honest, and I think all of us have gone through a moment where we have felt like that, and we have been that person.
Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson were writers like that, and I can say the same thing about Bob Seger. Seger was a really open writer, and that’s what I aspire to be. That’s the carrot on the end of the stick that you keep chasing: try to be as open and honest in the songs as you possibly can.
Was there another artist that really believed in you when were you first starting to write music?
Jude Cole. He’s been one of my best friends for 30 years, and I think he made three records with Warner Brothers, and he became a producer. I was just playing in small bars around Los Angeles [when I first started performing]. In fact, I had a rule, the band that I was playing with we would play anywhere as long as it was 50 miles outside Los Angeles. I was playing a lot of songs that I had written and then some covers.
He was the one who got me to record the first couple songs and he ended up producing both of these records. I’m so grateful to him that he gave me the confidence to do it.
I didn’t expect [touring] would become one of the great loves of my life. We’ve played almost 300 shows in two-and-a-half years, and it’s just been one of the great experiences that I’ve ever had. None of that would have happened had it not been for him making me feel confident to do it. And he also helped me battle the stigma that I’m acutely aware of an actor doing music. He slowly walked me through that, as well. I would not have done any of this had it not been for him.
As someone who is perpetually creative in acting and music, what keeps you in it? What connection do you get from a live audience?
The second part of your question answers the first. It’s the live audience. I was so nervous when I started. I remember my right hand would shake so bad, and as an actor, if your hand is shaking, if you’re nervous, you just put them in your pocket. But as a guitar player, you need them. I found that if I looked out in the audience, I could find one person, and if I just focused on them, everything would be alright. You try and find someone that’s listening.
For whatever reason, I feel this real personal connection because these songs are not written by a character, they’re written by me. They’re my personal songs. They’re stories of my life in a very personal intimate way. And I have found when I have gone to share them with an audience, their response has just been so generous.
I’ve always considered our show to be really more of a conversation because I get to tell a story of, “This is where I was when I wrote this song, and this is what I was going through.” And I can see in peoples’ faces that they’ve gone through very similar things.
Anytime you can allow other people to realize that we’re all going through this thing called life together, and that it’s not easy, I think that makes people feel better. It certainly makes me feel better to play those songs that express that.